Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Diplomatic Body Language

The highly volatile situation in Ukraine once again highlight the intricate diplomatic musical chairs that is played out in a crisis situation. Delegates come and go, alliances are probed, muscles flexed - and in the end only the very few are left in the game. It is a highly rhetorical situation, with multiple audiences and a swarm of actors. The scene, however, is shared.

I found some really amusing thoughts in an article by Christer Jönsson and Martin Hall with (the initially dumb) name "Communication: An Essential Aspect of Diplomacy" (In International Studies Perspectives, 2003, 4 pp. 195-210).

They stress that the needs for clarity and ambiguity are two counter reacting forces in diplomacy. On one hand you want your opponent/partner to understand exactly what your intention is, despite all differences in ideology and culture, but on the other hand you want to remain diplomatically ambiguous. This is because you might have some secrets you can't let anyone else in on, because you would like to be able to deny it later or because there are several audiences of you message.

This "constructive ambiguity", in effect, means that all diplomats are "intuitive semioticians", interpreters of sign. Diplomats interprets ALL signs, as they may be an intentional signal from the counterpart. And this broadens the scope for the diplomat's "body language". Or as they write:

"Diplomatic "body language" encompasses everything from personal gestures to the manipulation of military forces."

This is actually one of the concepts that I have been looking for, that enables me to look at International Relations and war in a rhetorical view.

And it puts the rumors about Russian special forces in Kiev into another perspective - it might not be a ultimate statement, but rather a signal that Russia REALLY mean this, but that they are still not willing to make the deployment official and back the government all the way. But it might also just be rumors, for all science care.

The eastern, government supportive, parts of Ukraine threatens to vote for independence. New York Times writes the following on the Diplomatic interpretations:

"The significance of the threat is open to question. A senior Western diplomat in Kiev on Saturday described talk of separatism or autonomy as a bluff, perhaps organized by Russia, which backs Mr. Yanukovich. But Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who has been involved in mediating the political impasse here, said a break-up was a real threat, Reuters reported."


Wireless, oh wireless

Full moon, clear skies - and a faint WiFi signal from the high hospital building outside my window. Finally internet access in my room! I guzzle as the trickle of rays might dry up when the rain and London fog returns.

And what has first priority, which thirst first to quench when suddenly finding a source? Drengene fra Angora, of course!

Assassination as ethos-booster

Intelligence services and individual crackpots have a long history of trying to assassinate political adversaries. I was just about to write that "fortunately we don't see that kind of behaviour very often in our part of the world". But then I came to think of Pim Fortuyn and Anna Lindh, two sad and recent instances.

In the boiling conflict in Ukraine assassination also plays a part. The opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko claims to have been poisoned by biological warfare agents (in the chemical sense, not the HUMINT one), after being treated in a Vienna hospital. Others hold that it is merely a bad case of acne or bad sushi.

It is of course a controversial claim, but try and take a look at the comparative pictures on BBC's homepage - the difference is remarkable.

How ever, no matter if this is indeed a botched assassination attempt by some clandenstine grouping or just too much chocolate, the effect on Yushchenko's ethos is the same.

For those who believe that it really is poisoning, Yushchenko becomes the main character in a rhetorical equivalent of the ancient tragedy: The handsome hero who is fighting dark powers that inevitably destroys him (in this instance, at least his face). The plot might twist if he ends up the new leader.

This must certainly convey a special aura to him - perhaps doubling his magnetism, the very same trait that eventual assassins were out to negate.

The list of injured statesmen is long, but a curious example is Theodore Roosevelt, who was shot in the chest while holding a speech on the campaign trail. He continued his speech for 1 1/2 hour before seeking a doctor.


OTPOR and Cicero

The uprisings in Ukraine in these days seems to follow a textbook procedure in these kinds of upheaval. It is the kind of scenery we saw some places during the fall of the cold war and most recently in Serbia (the OTPOR movement) and Georgia.

And it really underscores rhetoric in the good, old traditional sense, where a speaker manages to excite a crowd and convince them to stay out in the freezing cold for a cause that is bigger than themselves - even though they might get beaten or worse.

Allow me to serve up one of my favorite Cicero quotations, clumsily translated partly from Thure Hastrup's Danish version, partly from Perseus Project (and hopefully neither Cicero nor my old teacher Lars Kirkegaard is watching).

Is it not a wonderful thought that there, one man comes forth from the
crowd of men and is the only one, or one of the very few, who can set about
that, which everybody has the ability to do from birth?

Cicero, De Oratore, book 1 chapter 31

Obviously individuals play a great role in these kinds of uprising. The interplay between popular movement and an inspiring leader is having an enormous output - counted in it's thousands on the street.

But this kind of movement also raises a good question: how much springs from persuasion and how much is it possible for foreign powers to push this kind of movement forward, using intelligence, covert missions and secret diplomacy? New York Times has an interesting analysis of the Ukrainian uprising as an oldstyle proxy war between Russia and the EU.

The last point here concerns Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, the Danish intelligence service, that I have mentioned before. Regarding the criticism of Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) hopefully they have plentiful information on Ukraine - if they are not actually engaged in of changing horses midstream to a Middle Eastern emphasis - and it would be interesting to know how much they could use information like this as a bargaining chip when dealing with other intelligence services.

Back in Ukraine hopefully democracy is the winner of this complicated struggle.


Online academic goodies

I haven't really been hit by the speeding information revolution yet. I always get very greedy when I realise that I can get academic articles FOR FREE.

Today universities have access to a thousand-fold journals online, so you don't even have to put on trousers and leave your room, but have all the information in the world at your fingertips. If you have internet access in your room, that is.

But putting trousers on is a small price to pay for me to go to the library and downloading like mad.

I've recently found two online journals that everybody could get access to.

POROI Journal - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Rhetorical Analysis and Invention

Journal of Diplomatic Language


Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

In 2005 US Department of State wants to use 507 million $ on "Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs". I might be a sucker, trawling for links between Rhetoric and International Relations as I am, but this is really an illustrative number. It might be peanuts compared to a defence budget, but doesn't it show that "hearts and minds" are at least taken serious on a strategic level, and not only among the flyer-tooting, hardhat wearing soldiers on the streets of Baghdad?

I am just reading "Christopher Felix"'s A short Course in the Secret War, and here he mentions how glad the former Eastern European dissidents had been for the various radio services during the cold war.

I hope they have some good rhetoricians around, to spend all those money...

See more here.


Danish OSINT, when is much too much?

A recent satellite map showing Fallujah on the homepage of the Danish daily Politiken is a testimony to the rising importance of open sources when reporters and intelligence-services tries to make sense of the world. A decade ago that kind of satellite imagery would have been almost unobtainable.

Together with a lecture on OSINT (open source intelligence) that I had yesterday with Dr Wyn Bowen, a former UN weapons inspector, it sheds some light on the Danish foreign intelligence service "Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste", FE for short.

Dr. Wyn Bowen, who is a research director at the Department of Defence Studies, a joint venture between the Joint Services Command and Staff College and Department of War Studies, mentioned briefly that a number of states were heavily reliant on OSINF (open source information) and OSINT - among these Scandinavian countries. He furthermore mentioned that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service based its intelligence reports on 80 % open material.

This is really interesting information in regards to FE. Last year in spring the whistleblower Frank Grevil leaked material on FE's assessments on Iraq's WMD capability. When the FE officer was exposed, he furthermore criticised the service for being political, backwards - and for relying to much on OSINF.

The daily "Information" followed the case very closely (see their theme here) and here is what they said:

"Apart from a very limited independent collection of information, FE is conducting a systematic surveillance of media and internet. 95 percent of the service's sources are in this way entirely open."

And then the question is: Is that surprising? And is it too much, when compared to, say, Canada? Most of the literature on OSINT and intelligence in policy-making agrees that secret intelligence most often only works as an reaffirmation of general attitudes that had already been reached. So is it realistic that Denmark, with 5 million people and only a couple of thousand soldiers, should have a fully secret strategic intelligence capability? And isn't there more expertise out there in the open than FE could ever hope to herd together, especially concerning things like nuclear proliferation and security?

I don't know, but it is an interesting thing to delve into.


Hjerte og sind, pars et toto...

Første arrangement på det nye "Institut for Medier, Erkendelse og Formidling" er et symposium om "Hearts and minds - USA, medierne og kampen om sindene".

Det er det perfekte emne til at forene interesserne i det nye institut. Min dåbsgave er det beskedne håb at det nye institut kan finde ud af at arbejde tværfagligt og ikke falde i de samme bureaukratiske grøfter som det gamle Institut for Filosofi, Pædagogik og Retorik, hvor man aldrig fik chancen til at lege med de andre.

Mit nuværende Institut for Krigsstudier er tværfagligt - og der er noget næsten markedsliberalistisk akademisk frihed over at kunne tale med en IR fyr, en psykolog eller en filosof, alt efter hvad man har brug for i den enkelte situation.


Definition makes the day

This recent report in the outrageously (in a both funny and tragic sense) biased Russian daily Pravda shows the power of definition. The Abkhaz government presses for a definition of the events this Friday as "Coup d'etat" - that would probably allow them to hit the opposition harder.

It is interesting though, the way they seem to tip-toe around it. The words "classified as" and "estimated" are inserted. And in a sense they function as a big index finger pointing and drawing attention to the definition and signaling that they are in doubt. For this kind of definition it is important to shout it out and not waver if it is to have effect. Does that explanation make any sense to others than me? :)

In International Relations the struggle of defining things seems central for states in conflict with each other. Two of the most notable definitions are "Sovereignty" and "Just War" - the latter a subject that would be really interesting to put in the rhetorical wringer.



I have put up a page to propagate my ramblings in academia. You can find some of my writings by clicking under Papers in the right hand bar.


Fallujah and the power of presence

Walking along a peaceful and sunny Thames I couldn't help thinking about that other town on a river, Fallujah. And I came to think about an intersection between military strategy and rhetoric - giving presence to one area, as to cast shadows on others.

The rhetorical notion of presence is developed by Perelman. I found a good explanaition here:

"Presence is a quality of vividness that changes the perspective of an audience and enables them to focus on an item or an element as the figure, making the environment that surrounds it the ground. Once an object achieves presence, persuasion is possible. The "practical implication" of presence essentially means that "people act on what they perceive. To help the audience 'see' the world in a particular way is to move them towards action" (397)".

This kind of emphasis can be used in strategic settings as well. Sometimes as strategic deception - like the focus on a possible amphibious landing in the Gulf War of 1991 (to draw attention away from the western pincer movement) - and in other instances, like Fallujah, perhaps to take attention away from the environment, a messy and bleak one.

Fallujah is very useful in this aspect, as it reminds us of a clear-cut military maneuvre and has a strong notion of good versus evil. It is in other words a battle more of the kind that we can handle and our attention is drawn to it.


Eureka! The missing link

This must be the feeling that the archaeologists who found "Homo Florensis" in Indonesia must have felt. The dim at first, but then rapidly growing enlightenment, exploding in an entire, warm feeling of rediscovery and reaffirmation.

I have just found the article that promises to link my two areas of study, Rhetoric and Intelligence. It is a very nice emotion that reminds me that being an academician in spe is really quite exiting.

Well, down to the nitty gritty:

Since I started my studies in rhetoric I have realised that I felt an urge to try to tie Rhetorical theory and International Relations theory together. It seems very obvious in so many ways that these two disciplines should have great overlaps.

I had located one of the obstacles that I will need to tackle, namely the very dominant trend in IR, realism. Realism is basically the theoretical assumption that power is the all-dominating trait of how states act together. Protecting and strengthening the "national interest" is all-important. War is just the extreme, but logical extent of this.

This kind of collides with Rhetoric?s assumption that human society is very much based on our ability to engage in dialogue - that is: a kind of corporation. The symbolic interaction between us is shaped by nothing but human endeavour.

A while ago I found Robert Alexander Kraig's article "The Tragic Science: The Uses of Jimmy Carter in Foreign Policy Realism" (Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, pp. 1-30) - but it went in the drawer.

When finally pulling it out from there and reading it, I found that I had hit a stream of exactly what I had been looking for: Rhetoric combined with International Relations theory. It might only be a small trickle, with just two books on the subject so far, but it is a very good start. Now at least I know that I am not alone out there.

Kraig's article is an intriguing rhetorical analysis of the Realist's worldview, as it is expressed in the realist studies of Jimmy Carter's presidency (Carter started out with a rather idealistic view on a world order based on human rights, but soon turned back to a realist behaviour). He shows how it fits into the genre of tragedy and explain what consequences this have for realist theory. Very readable!

It might not offer a post-realist rhetorical IR theory in itself, but it lays a very good foundation for further work on war, intelligence and rhetoric.

Oh. Happiness is a warm theory.


We are a Core, they are the Gap

I can't help it! I love quirky theories. I might not even be at ease with strategic studies yet, but I love finding new stuff that complements, contradicts and circles it.

Now I found a thing that might complement the discussion on RMA and the political/rhetorical uses of this.

Take a taste of this:

"The worst thing that can happen to a military is that they win a war because then they sit on their mountain top and ecpect that it is going to last for ever - until somebody bonks them over the head. The best thing that can happen is that they lose a war, because then they really learn something".

The magnificent Danish political magazine RÆSON brings an interview ("A hammer looking for nails" - a brilliant metaphor :) ) with Thomas P.M. Barnett who is Senior Strategic Researcher and Professor at U.S. Naval War College. It is downloadable in an English PDF version as well.

Barnetts constructive metaphor is the one of a Core and a Gap. The Core is the integrated states clinging together, the Gap are all those who don't. Barnett's strategy is simple: shrink the gap, integrate the states. This takes both military power and development.

He makes some pretty thought-provoking statements and this certainly opens new questions on how the US is going to legitimize its policy.


Intelligence requirements

"Revolution in military affairs", RMA, is a cluster of thoughts on how to wage war in the space-age. It grew out of the 1991 Gulf war and the succes and exhilaration provided by precision guided munitions and satellite pictures.

It looks very much as if this is the way that the Danish military is going (please see Valde's comprehensive description if you haven't already). And that just started me down a path of thoughts:

* Precision guided munitions takes high-grade intelligence on targets, otherwise you might as well hit a hen-shack very precisely, for all the bomb care. Will the Danish arsenal upgrade on this capability? (Right now it buzzes around with some French produced drones, that as far as I have heard, should be pretty shabby)

* What political gains would a more modern Danish army be able to give a Danish government? I'm thinking: what arguments will the RMA present to a government, with the desire to utilise the army in Danish foreign policy? Will the Danes be more ready to send off soldiers? Will the US be more ready to let Danish troopers "attack alongside US and UK forces"?

Hmm, guess those questions are not exactly linked - by anything else than my strange combination of interest in intelligence and rhetoric.


The open society and it's enemies II

I just visited the Town hall of London. In the gaining dusk and light drizzle this beautiful city just looks as it was supposed to, with yellow lights beaconing from pubs and millionaire flats in the Docklands. The townhall is the most democratic building I've been to so far - with it's translucent skin and elegant skeleton it is much more interesting from the inside than the outside. A snailing, spiralling staircase winds it's way down from the top (euphemistically called the living room of London, but much more the storage backroom) through a well of offices walled by large glass panes and right down into an open assembly forum, with no podium, just a floor. It all conveys a sense of openness and friendly embrace.

And I just wondered how much this kind of symbolic metaphors does influence citizens of a democracy and the ones opposed to the open society. Would political participation be heightened if we moved the intestines of policy out in to the street? And could powerpolitics survive in sunshine?


Dialogue with the devil?

Because of an important dignitary's visit to London recently I have only gotten around to Bin Laden's latest "campaign video" now. And how interesting from a rhetorical point of view!

The most obvious thing here is the change in genre. Usually his speeches has been levelled at the Arab world with a clear emphasis on the epideictic genre (that has the purpose of reaffirming a group's identity), although he has also been trying to rally moderate Moslems.

But this time around he has taken pains to ensure that his message is directed to the American people. This emphasises the deliberate genre, the political speech designed to convince the other party of something.

Another interesting thing is his persona, the self-image that he is presenting in the speech. He is much more "urban" and, well, witty than I have ever seen before. He uses shifts in metaphors, syllepsis, "because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers" and ironic anecdotes "All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida...".

Last but most interesting: This seems to be an attempt at a dialogue, however futile it is. And actually when considering it from a rhetorical viewpoint it all makes sense.

To be able to convince another human by speech you have to either seduce them (by propaganda for example) or signal that you are willing to embrace the principle of the best argument as the winning one. Only by being willing to listen to your opponents viewpoint and take (at least some) notice of it's essential value will you be able to make your recipient willing to adopt the same stance toward you. If you don't, the shouting argument ensues.

In other words, to be able to make a political speech to the American people, Osama bin-Laden must play by some of the rules of the American society to make himself understandable at all.

This might have a very large impact on the notion of al-Queda as a diplomatic entity. But how interesting this speech might be, it still hints the almost unbridgeable gap between the parties on each side of the "war on terror".

Read the speech here.